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Spain is facing its demons

Adam Parsons, Correspondent

Spain is facing its demons.

In Catalonia, a regional election is deciding which parties make up the local government.

Normally that would pass with little interest from the outside world – but not now.

Instead, Europe will train its attention on the Catalans, and the way in which they could fracture their region, their country and perhaps even their continent.

A clear victory for the parties backing Catalan independence would embolden them, and inspire calls for a referendum on self-rule for Catalonia.

It probably still wouldn’t happen, but it would make a rancorous debate even more full of fury, and turn a national schism into something even more profoundly damaging.

Does that ring any bells?

The words referendum, fury and schism all appearing in the same sentence, along with talk of a nation either being ripped apart by politics, or alternatively a story of how popular sentiment defeated the Government?

A woman carries ballot boxes for the Catalan regional election, during a polling station setup at the 'Prat de la Mata' school on the eve of the voting day in L'Hospitalet del Llobregat on December 20, 2017. Catalan voters will decide on December 21 whether to return the separatists to power or to bring in a pro-unity government, as their region's independence crisis nears its moment of truth. / AFP PHOTO / PAU BARRENA (Photo credit should read PAU BARRENA/AFP/Getty Images)
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A regional election will decide which parties make up the local government

Yup, I may have left Britain but I can’t escape the influence of Brexit.

I have reported on this Catalan campaign from both Barcelona and Madrid, and in both places the word “Brexit” has sprung up all the time.

And often it is seen as a warning of how politics – and an emotionally charged referendum – can set people against one another.

Spain is not divided in the way that Britain was.

The Brexit referendum was won by a tight margin, whereas a national referendum on whether Catalonia should be allowed to leave would result in a landslide victory for the Spanish unionists.

Beyond the realms of the Catalans themselves, there is very little support for the idea.

Even within Catalonia, it is probably still backed by a minority.

But it is a potent enough idea to cause fissures.

For one thing, it sets people against each other in Catalonia.

Colleagues argue, rival demonstrations clash.

Barcelona, often heralded as the focus for Catalan nationalism, is actually inclined towards staying as part of Spain, while the people of Girona would be likely to vote for independence.

Rural areas tend to support Catalonia breaking away, even though they lean on subsidies from the European Union, which would not recognise a new independent state.

In fact, the EU hates the idea of a Catalan state.

If it allows that, it fears that Bavaria would try to follow suit, as well as Lombardy, Sicily, Wallonia, South Tyrol and a long line of other pretenders.

I have reported on this Catalan campaign from both Barcelona and Madrid, and in both places the word “Brexit” has sprung up all the time.

Adam Parsons

European unity could shatter, along with the whole history of statehood and the stability of Europe.

Alright, so that’s extreme, but confronted with even the idea of that doomsday prospect, the chances of the EU backing Catalonia’s dream of independence are about the same as me getting the role of James Bond – zilch.

Whatever happens, Spain will have to deal with the fallout.

If the independence parties are beaten, then still there will be the lingering anger about how Spanish police dealt with the vote of 1 October, and the independence campaign will carry on.

But if the separatists get a majority of votes, they will claim a moral right to pursue independence.

They will want a referendum limited to Catalonia; the Government will say that a long legal process has to be followed that would lead to a national referendum.

The arguments will go on.

And just like Brexit, Spain will suffer rows that run deep and hard.

History is beginning to suggest that referenda, which should be the ultimate demonstration of democratic decision-making, have the potential to divide countries like nothing else.

Sky Views is a series of comment pieces by Sky News editors and correspondents, published every morning.

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